Fly Tying
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One of the great attributes of Arkansas River brown trout is that, while they display the keen instincts of wild trout, they are not highly educated fish. The relatively light fishing pressure on this river, coupled with high fish density, moderate food supply andoften difficult feeding conditions such as high flow, makes for opportunistic and aggressive fish.
Though fish are more selective in general during low water and in winter’s relatively dormant periods, anglers generally use 3X to 5X tippet and flies tied on hooks sized 8 to 18.
As on most rivers, the vast majority of an Arkansas River trout’s diet consists of aquatic insects in nymphal, larval, and pupal stages. Presented here are patterns commonly used to imitate this important food source. Most are tied with a beadhead.
• Midge larva — Tungsten Bead Biot Midge, Black Beauty, Plain Brassie, Miracle Nymph, WD-40.
• Caddis pupa — Soft Hackle Pupa, Prince Nymph, Lafontaine Sparkle Pupa (olive and black)
• Mayfly nymphs — Copper John, WD-40, RS-2, Pheasant Tail, Flashback Pheasant Tail, Tungsten Teaser, Micro-Mayfly.
• Stonefly nymphs — Twenty Incher, Epoxy Back Stone, Golden Stone, Puterbaugh Dark Stone
Baitfish are not a major food source on the Arkansas River, though brown trout do take advantage of young suckers, dace and their own young. Despite the small numbers of this forage, browns will frequently hit streamer patterns with intensity and abandon. It is hard to say to what extent this behavior represents a feeding reaction and to what extent it is simply territorial behavior. Regardless, the following streamer patterns are highly effective, especially when thrown towards shore from a boat:
• Wooly Buggers — Black, black with flashabou, purple, and olive. Size 8-12. Cone- or bead-head patterns work best.
• Zonkers — Particularly in low light or evening, Yellow and Silver Zonkers can be very effective.
• Muddler Minnows, including Mini-Muddler.
Dry flies and terrestrials
Terrestrial insects are a plentiful food source during summer months and into fall. Schroeder’s Parachute Hopper is the best all-around performer on the Arkansas and is a good high visibility fly. Dave’s Hoppers come in a close second. Ant and beetle patterns can be very effective too, especially when fished behind a larger, more visible dry. On the market these days are an increasing number of large, high floating, high visibility attractor patterns. Flies like the Parachute Madam X, Royal Stimulator, and Turks Tarantula all make excellent indicator dries and will raise a lot of fish in their own right.
Among more traditional dry flies, buoyant high-visibility patterns generally produce the most success on the Arkansas. The generally broken surface of the water combined with swift current makes these flies particularly valuable.
Big, bushy, buggy attractors: Royal Wulff — 10-16, H&L Variant — 10-16; Parachute Madam X — 8-12, Royal Stimulator — 8-12, and Turk’s Tarantula — 8-12.
Caddis: Elk Hair Caddis — 14-16, Black Foam Caddis — 14-16.
Stoneflies: Yellow Foam Fly — 12-16, Yellow or Orange Stimulator 12-16.
Mayflies: Parachute Adams and Regular Adams — 12-20, Brooks Sprout Baetis — 16-22, Parachute Gulper Special — 16-22, Lawsons PMD- 14-18, Light Cahill — 14-18
Midges: Griffiths Gnat — 18-22, Midge Adams — 18-22, Puterbaugh’s Elkhair Midge — 18-22
For high lakes, add Bloody Butcher, Orange Asher and Renegade.
Puterbaugh flies
Don Puterbaugh has guided and fished on the Arkansas since the last ice age. An innovative fly-tier as well as a well-known fishing author (with collaborator Paul Fling), Don has several patterns designed specifically for the Arkansas:
• Black Foam Caddis: hook 14-18 standard dry; thread 6/0 black; body black foam strip; wing elk hair; hackle brown
• Yellow Foam Stonefly: hook 12-16 standard dry fly; thread 6/0 yellow; body yellow foam strip; wing elk hair; hackle brown, then grizzly
• Inner Tube Dark Stonefly: hook 6-8 4X long streamer; thread 6/0 black; butt yellow dubbing; tail two pieces of 12 lb. maxima; abdomen wrapped strip 1/8-in. wide of black bicycle inner tube; ribbing fine gold wire; wing case strip black swiss straw, 1/8-in. wide; thorax yellow dubbing; legs palmered brown hackle.